Oh no...not again: Icelandic volcano ash cloud on course for Scotland

THE Scottish Government has held an emergency meeting to discuss the impact of a new ash cloud spewing out of an Icelandic volcano amid warnings it will hit the north of the country by midday tomorrow.

Just over a year since volcanic eruptions in Iceland closed airspace across 34 countries, causing thousands of flights across Europe to be cancelled and bringing travel chaos to millions of passengers, the prospect of a renewed disruption has arisen.

On Saturday, Grimsvtn, Iceland's most active volcano at the heart of its biggest glacier, began erupting, sending a plume of smoke and ash 12 miles high.

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So much ash was blasted into the sky that it blocked out the sun and covered nearby villages and farms.

By yesterday, the ash had reached Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, nearly 250 miles to the west, and all the country's airspace was closed down.

Meteorologists warned airlines that ash from the erupting volcano could reach northern Scotland by tomorrow and other parts of the UK by Thursday.

The weather experts made their predictions during a telephone conference with officials responsible for European airspace, and added that the fine particles of ash could spread as far as parts of France and Spain by the end of the week.

Last night, Scottish transport secretary Keith Brown chaired a meeting of the government's resilience committee to discuss the possible impact.

In April last year, 34 countries shut their airspace after the Eyjafjallajkull volcano erupted, due to fears that fine ash particles drifting from Iceland could cause jet engines to stop.

It was the largest such closure since the Second World War. Millions of passengers were affected and European airlines and tour operators reported losses of about 2 billion.

A UK weather official involved in monitoring the latest ash cloud told airlines in the conference call yesterday: "There is the potential for some ash to be effective in northern Scotland and the northern north sea by midday on Tuesday.

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"After that, as long as the volcano continues to erupt at the same intensity, there are concerns that ash could become effective further into the UK and western France and northern Spain by the 26 or 27 May," the official said.

The warning is based on the latest five-day weather forecasts and is being treated cautiously because of uncertainties over how the volcano will behave and interact with the weather.

Other agencies monitoring the volcanic ash were reluctant to predict which way the ash cloud would blow.

Helen Chivers, a spokeswoman for the Met office, said: "If the volcano continues to erupt at the same level that it currently is, then we could see some ash over the UK later this week."

However, she added it was difficult to predict exactly were it would hit.

National Air Traffic Services, which provide air traffic control services for aircraft flying in UK airspace and the eastern part of the North Atlantic, said it was monitoring the situation.

A spokesman said: "No-one knows where it is going at the moment. Everyone will have contingency plans that will be put in place if it does come this way," he said.

A spokesman from the Civil Aviation Authority said the situation was still at the monitoring stage.

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"It is just speculation at the moment. It is far from certain where the ash cloud will end up.

"We are monitoring the situation at the moment and are in touch with the met office and air traffic control," he added.

The week that stilled the skies and left millions stranded

AN INDEPENDENT investigation into the volcanic ash cloud that caused travel chaos across Europe last year vindicated the aviation authorities' decision to ground thousands of flights until the danger had passed.

The drifting plume of ash contained fine particles that were hard and sharp enough to put aircraft at risk from abrasion and, more seriously, to melt inside jet engines and clog cooling ducts - something that could have caused engines to fail and planes to fall from the sky, scientists said last month.

Detailed tests on particles collected from the ash cloud found the grains were still sharp enough to damage aircraft two weeks after the eruption of the Eyjafjallajkull volcano in Iceland.

The ash cloud produced in April last year grounded aircraft over much of Europe for nearly a week.

Some 100,000 flights were cancelled, leaving an estimated ten million travellers stranded or delayed.

The decision to close airspace cost European airlines and tour operators about 2 billion, according to estimates by EU transport officials.

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The flight ban led to criticisms from the airline industry, with some carriers accusing the Civil Aviation Authority of over-reacting.